On June 22 Oral arguments were heard in the UFT/NAACP school closing/co-location lawsuit. State Supreme Court Judge Paul Feinman’s courtroom was packed, mostly with attorneys and reporters, so crowded that initially the guards let in only about five unaffiliated observers (including me.) The cadre of charter school lawyers was especially immense; about 25 of them, all apparently pro-bono. The city sent a handful of lawyers, including Michael Best, and the UFT/NAACP had a small contingent from Stroock, Stroock and Lavan.
Chuck Moerdler, Stroock’s senior litigator, started by saying he had only three main points: One, that the case could be streamlined, because DOE agrees that they need approval from the State Education Department before they can close 12 out of the 19 schools; and yet they have not even filed any applications to do so, as the State Education Commissioner confirmed just that morning.
Second, last year, there was an signed agreement between the UFT and DOE to provide extra help to these schools, as part of settling the previous lawsuit, including an “education plan” that would provide them with more teachers in the ATR pool (absent teacher reserve) and support in myriad ways.
Whether or not that agreement was a binding contract, there was an “obligation of good faith” that DOE had utterly failed to live up to. At Beach Channel HS, for example, the DOE agreed to send 11 ATR teachers , but two never showed up, and another was “illegally” asked to teach special needs students. At Columbus HS, twenty five classes in the fall did not have a single teacher, and the single ATR teacher they sent was only qualified to teach typing and stenography (!) which the school does not offer. At Jamaica HS, where they were supposed to provide a Teacher Center, the principal received an email about this on June 10, only a few weeks ago, following nearly a full school year of non-action.
Third, as to the charter co-locations: DOE put boilerplate language into the Building Utilizations Plans, they were empty of content until the UFT/NAACP lawsuit was filed; they are still rewriting the BUPS and redoing all the hearings to try to repair the deficiencies, but they are still not adequate.
In any case, these BUPs are “ wholesale revisions,” and according to state law, any “significant” revision of a building plan requires a new six-month waiting period before the start of the next school year when the co-location can occur. It is now far too late in the year. Moerdler went through a litany of some of the unfair and inequitable co-locations that are still being contemplated, with children at the district schools losing equitable access to bathrooms, libraries, gyms, etc. He argued that the “city of NY which has betrayed” these schools by their failed promises, and that the NYC DOE has one goal only: “the destruction of free public education in New York City.”
The city’s attorney, Chlarens Orsland, was up next. He said that the DOE was “working with State Education Department” to ensure they would get approval to close these 12 schools and that they expected a decision by July 31. The other seven schools (ironically those not on the state’s failing list) can be closed without the state’s approval. He denied that there was any agreement with set timelines to provide extra support to these schools; and cited an affidavit from former Chancellor Joel Klein, who disputed the UFT’s interpretation of this agreement.
( Klein’s affidavit says that the “agreement was never intended to be a mechanism to limit or forestall any of the DOE’s determinations as to the necessity of closing or co-locating schools. Rather, the portion of the letter agreement providing for the Education Plan was a mechanism to ensure that the 19 schools, which had a history of poor performance and student outcomes, received additional resources to enrich the students’ educational experience.”)
READ MORE AT THE NYC PUBLIC SCHOOL PARENT BLOG
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